Movie review – Bravest girl in the world

2011-03-12 12:27

Film: Life, Above All (Nu Metro)
Director: Oliver Schmitz
Featuring: Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Lenabe and Lerato Mvelase
Rating: 8/10

Life, Above All, the South African film that was shortlisted for a best foreign language film Oscar nomination this year, has finally made it to our screens.

Unfortunately, films that are festival darlings (this one got a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes last year) often fail to go big at the box office. It’s a great shame because this one is a gem.

The story is regrettably a familiar one – a family and the greater community coping with a silent killer that everyone is so afraid of they hide behind a wall of superstition and Chinese whispers. First-timer Khomotso Manyaka gives a breathtaking performance as Chanda, the bravest little girl in the world.

Her baby sister dies and the community rallies around, but no one speaks about why the little girl died. When Chanda’s mother, Lillian (Lerato Mvelase), starts to ail, the neighbour, Mrs Tafa (Harriet Lenabe), helps the family stave off the gossipmongers.

Of course, Mrs Tafa, who is the personification of the fear that pervades the community, is not helping at all. She is condemning everybody to ignorance and potential death. She is one of the film’s most well-developed characters. She gets what so many never get – redemption.

The film’s most shocking narrative thread is the story of Esther (Keaobaka Makanyane), whose parents have died of Aids. She is vilified by the community and her own family, and everyone avoids her as though she has the plague.
Makanyane, also in her debut role, gives a superb performance as the fragile Esther who hides her pain with bravado, lipstick and a miniskirt.

South African-born director Oliver Schmitz brings his understanding of the country to bear, ensuring that every scene rings true and that the film never falls victim to sentimentality.

This film, based on the book Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton, is beautifully shot. It captures all the nuances of rural life in South Africa.

The splendour of the vistas act as an ironic backdrop to the hardships and poverty faced by the families who have to scratch out a living in places that look like paradise. These families are short of everything most of us take for granted – education, work, healthcare.

But the trouble with Life, Above All is that it covers already well-trampled ground. Last year’s Themba: A Boy Called Hope and Darrell Roodt’s Oscar-nominated Yesterday have previously dealt with the tragic consequences of ignorance surrounding HIV. Like those two films, this one is unlikely to pull in the crowds like White Wedding or Schuks Tshabalala.

Try not to be put off by the subject matter. Take the plunge and spend your hard-earned cash on a ticket to watch Life, Above All.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how uplifting Chanda’s story is.

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